Open Source is political: Blows Against The Empire
|Open Source product groups are occasionally highly politically motivated - frankly some come from a socialist/anarchist viewpoint of wanting to bring down the evil capitalist system. Whilst I realise that capitalism has an image problem right now, open source tools will never prosper in business until they get aboard business.||
This comment is inspired by Matt Stansberry quoting John M. Willis (I can't find the original quote) “Stop it with the open source stuff. Stop even mentioning it. Solar Winds is kicking your butt all over the place and all they’re talking about is price and performance.”
The article is robustly debated by the prickly Andrew Shafer at Reductive, the same who gave me stick for wanting people to contribute to OPS4LESS before they could access the full text of the open user-contributed content. The OPS4LESS principle is that you can eat all you want at the buffet so long as you leave a little food on your way in. But according to Andrew this is selfish and obstructive. Actually the idea doesn't work: no-one is buying in. So I'm not arguing that it is a good idea, just that it was a reasonable one :D
Anyway back to open source rather than open content. Plenty of people working on open source projects are motivated solely by the holy dollar, possibly most of them. But the vocally political few, starting with the mighty Stallman, still give open source this tie-died guerilla aura that discomforts the suits. I agree with John. If "open source anarchists" want to advance their covert cause and dig away the foundations of the evil corporations, they will do best to sit down, shut up, and let the cleancut advocates pitch open source for its business merits using business language.
One example is the distinction between "commercial" software and open source software, a distinction that Shafer draws in his comments about the Stansberry article. If open source developers don't see themselves as producing a commerical product in a competitively commercial environment then they are stone dead. They can continue to provide cool tools to cool people in cool little (struggling) companies but broad adoption will elude them. The correct distinction is between open source commercial products and closed source commercial products.
The tool this site is built in, Drupal, is another example. Drupal has enormous potential as a business tool for knowledge management and portals, but there is at least one key figure in the Drupal echelons who won't acknowledge Internet Explorer as a valid deployment platform. In the same way that Silicon Valley lives in its own little world, the open source community do too. The mindset is: "Nobody I know uses IE" or "Nobody in their right mind uses IE - serves them right". For the record here's the breakdown on this blog:
1. Internet Explorer 60.59%
2. Firefox 28.18%
3. Chrome 4.95%
4. Safari 3.73%
5. Opera 1.10%
6. Googlebot 0.54%
7. Mozilla 0.51%
8. Mozilla Compatible Agent 0.15%
9. Konqueror 0.07%
10. SeaMonkey 0.07%
(Incidentaly my subjective unanalysed impression of these numbers is that Chrome is eating Firefox's market share as much as IE's, which is probably not what Google intended).
IE's penetration in the corporate world is of course much higher still. Open source developers who don't embrace IE as their dominant target market are only cutting off their own legs. But some of them just can't bring themselves to love the bomb.
More generally, selling open source as Blows Against The Empire positions your product as attacking the value set of the people you want to approve its adoption. As John says, don't do it.
As he also says, don't even lead with open source, however you describe it. In a business context, whether it is open or not is just one techie geek factor, just like what database it is based on. Architects will have strong views on this but they are only one voice in selecting a software. The real question is what business value it delivers. A high-value closed tool will whip a low value open tool every time.
Being open source gives tool developers an advantage in making their product cheaper, more reliable, more responsive to the market's needs, more universally adaptable, and more functionally rich. If they achieve that they'll win. The fact they did it using open source is irrelevant.